Everyone will remember 2016 as the year that 4K and HDR became mainstream. Amazon beat Netflix to it and started producing all its original content in the format and making it available for the masses. The later part of the year and the release of the Grand Tour which at least for International Markets was the biggest win for Amazon further pushed this message as all content was available in 4K with full 10-bit HDR support (via HDR10).
However it seems Amazon doesn't follow one of the basic principles which its competitor Netflix follows which is to remain out of the hardware wars. To explain, let's first look at the History.
Amazon has had its own hardware business for a number of years, firstly they launched their Kindle range originally which served a purpose of allowing them to sell digital books. This was then followed by them releasing full on Tablets like the Fire HD Tablet which conveniently became one of few Android based releases which purposely didn't come with the Google Play store instead their own App Store. This went unnoticed by most, but you could already see Amazon at this stage trying to push its complete control.
Let's further this to 2015; where Amazon moved into the TV landscape. They launched their own FireTV sticks which again powered by Android, using there own App Store and UI (entirely hiding the fact that Google coded the entire OS powering it).
At first, it seemed fine. It's another competitor to the landscape up against the likes of Google Chromecast and Apple TV. Competition was good because it meant more development for them all as they tried to win over customers wallets. However this is where some would say Amazon stepped over the line and started abusing there monopoly.
By their own decision, they decided to ONLY release the Amazon Video app which they also own on their own platform, Roku (who was a niche company which they could buy at any time if it became a problem) and popular Games Consoles. They completely ignored the most popular streaming sticks / TV companion devices at the time as they were owned by Google and Apple.
One could argue that as Games Consoles were not a threat to Amazon as its not a market they are in yet, it allowed them to use them to further gain a foothold into peoples home
It get's worse though, they later decided to avoid 'confusing' consumers, that the Chromecast and Apple TV's sold on the Amazon platform must also be removed as they will confuse 'customers' who expect to be able to watch Amazon Video. There was no confusion; Amazon purposefully refused to release their own Video App on those Platforms, to then use that as an excuse to then delist them from the Amazon Store.
The de-listing didn't just apply to Amazon sold goods, but any third party who used the Amazon platform to sell goods. This was the first major step in a clear anti-competitive move by Amazon to kill the competition using its Monopoly in the online marketplace
Let's be under no illusion; some would argue that its Amazon's store and they can sell what they want. That doesn't take into account Amazon has a monopoly; they are the biggest destination worldwide for electronic goods. Not having your goods on Amazon is like losing 70% of the potential market share.
Amazon knew what they were doing and they were doing it on purpose to abuse their market position as the online store of choice for Electronics across the western world
A search for Chomecast or Apple TV on Amazon also always came back with a result of the Fire TV Stick at first place. This isn't a search engine algorithm working out of the box, it was a clear abuse of position by redirecting queries. The Product page for the Amazon Fire TV mentions Chromecast or Apple TV no where on the product page - so how could a search engine on Amazon's site return it unless it was manually forced in?
Move forward to 2016/2017 and Amazon are at it again. In 2016 they released an Amazon Fire TV 4K Edition. Another android device, which in the UK costs £79. Weirdly this device though does NOT support 60FPS at 4K with HDR due to its cheap usage of HDMI1.4
However to push it's sales, they continued to refuse to support Amazon Video on the capable Chromecast Ultra (which supports 4K at 60 FPS and HDR 10-bit which is more than can be said about Amazons own Fire TV).
It further developed that originally Amazon were going to add 4K and HDR support to the Xbox One S; the new mid-cycle refresh Microsoft did for the Xbox which added 4K/HDR support. As you can see from the marketing material from Microsoft themselves; they quote Amazon Video as supporting 4K like Netflix
However now its 2017, and this never materialised. It's yet another move by Amazon of withholding 4K Video Support from Rival platforms.
In 2015 they didn't consider Games Console's a threat it seems in 2017 with the advent of the new 4K Fire TV and Game Controller support Amazon now does.
The same applies to both the Playstation 4 Pro which supports 4K and HDR. While these were never promised by Amazon or Sony; it was wildly assumed they would be updated like all the competitors.
Let's look at Netflix - which currently is the market leader. Netflix releases apps on every platform possible - including pretty much every Games Console, every Streaming Device, every TV out there. On each of the platforms they are on, they support everything the device does - so if the TV supports 4K so does Netflix, if it does HDR so does Netflix. They do not want platform exclusivity, they do not have an agenda outside of getting you to view their content on whatever devices you have.
Now in the interest of fairness - I must admit if you use the Amazon Video apps on Smart TV's that have App Stores like Samsung, Sony. Amazon Video does indeed support 4K / HDR videos right now. Though one has to ask - how long will this last? Right now Amazon don't produce their own brand of TV's.
However it's not hard to think with the speed and size Amazon is growing at right now and how they have been introducing their own brand electronics in numerous areas that it's not long till either Amazon do their own TV's or at least start bundling 'Fire TV' built into the TV's. When that does happen, I can see the exact same battle taking place.
A new format will be introduced and you will suddenly find only the official Amazon Fire TV will support it. Though if Amazon keep up there current rate of doing evil to push their own empire you may suddenly find the Apps on Smart TV's get blocked from 4K/HDR or something similar under the excuse 'Apps must be updated and they are not available on your platform".
Mark my words; this is a fast changing landscape and I don't think that idea is farfetched anymore if you include everything they have done up till now.
I remember talking about this to a few people a year or so ago before Amazon did the 4K block on Xbox One S and they kept saying it sounded ridiculous; Amazon is a good company and it must be Apple demanding a share of revenues which blocked the Apple TV. Firstly let's debunk that theory. Amazon have already avoided the revenue share requirement on Apple's App Store by NOT selling subscriptions in the app (as seen on the iPad and iPhone apps). They could use the exact same logic on the Apple TV application. Secondly, the Chromecast API for casting is free for any developer - no terms, no catches. So that doesn't excuse it missing from Chromecast or Apple TV. Lastly, the console market doesnt have the same issues - there's no revenue share providing subscriptions arent sold directly in the app and Microsoft and Sony are very happy with this - as seen by Microsoft promoting Amazon 4K on the Xbox One S commercials.
Fast forward to 2017 and suddenly everything is fitting into place. This isnt a theory. this is happening right now. People need to realise that Amazon and the Amazon Video service is not the future of TV like we all believe Netflix is. Amazon are doing no better than the old cable / satalite premium TV providers like Sky are. They are using their market share to kill the competition and force you onto there hardware and in turn; their services.
So what can realistic be done about this? Well first of all, spread the message. Stop giving Amazon Video free publicity to your friends and family and actually call it out for what it is - a company intent to do evil at the cost of good players like Netflix.
Secondly; if it matters to you drop an email to jeff @ amazon.com (the CEO of Amazon and the mastermind behind all this); he does read emails and pass them onto his executive team. Tell him your a Prime Subscriber who's fed up with being forced to purchase Fire TV hardware you don't want or need. The bigger the voice against it, the better for all.
Lastly; I don't promote piracy - but the good side to this is due to the Fire TV's usage of open source hackable hardware the encryption around Amazon shows has been utterly defeated. On your favourite sources of material if you do download; you will find 4K / HDR rips of all the Amazon shows which you can download and watch on your device of choice - even a Chromecast or Xbox One S. I don't encourage piracy so let's make that clear - but if you have a Prime Subscription and you are being blocked by nasty business practices they would struggle in court without unearthing their monopolist behaviour.
Final thought. It's not going to be long until Amazon and Netflix become so mainstream that they become the new norm for TV. While this doesn't help people in the US, Canada or indeed the UK anymore - there is some hope that the EU will get involved. It's been seen time and time again how the EU is willing to stand up to to monopoly abusing companies and in time video on demand will become regulated due to its widespread reach and you may find Amazon being ordered to open its services to all devices owners. One can only hope.
If you question any of the sources or motives in this article, I also encourage you to do your own research. There is information out their if you search hard enough. A few posts on Reddit, ex-Amazon employees willing to speak up, various investigations by high profile researches who fully took apart various apps and more.